Many trainers put forth the idea that walking your dog is a training opportunity. In fact, every moment that you’re with your dog, training is happening, whether you know it or not. Your dog is observing your behavior and trying to suss out “what comes next”, and what produces good things for dogs.
Ian Dunbar suggests that, on a walk, you should make your dog reconnect with you every 25 yards or so. This could be a “come” command, or a “watch” command to get your dog’s attention, or, in a more trained dog, a distant “sit” or “down” command. If your dog is on lead, the first thing you might work on is “loose leash walking”; having your dog stay close without necessarily doing a precise “heel”. This video by Emily Larlham of “Kikopup” has some nice down-to-earth suggestions.
It’s good that she points out the fact that the dog walk is supposed to fulfill the dog’s needs and your needs. The more rewarding and fun you can make it for the dog, the better.
If your dog is safe off-lead, you can request behaviors and provide fun rewards. The reward can be food, as in the following little video of Suki on her daily walk, or freedom to range, or playing with a toy. In the video, I run a few steps, and Suki is rewarded by getting to chase me as well as getting a treat.
I use squirrel chasing as a big-time reward, since it’s one of Suki’s favorites. If she sees a squirrel in the distance, I’ll have her sit, then I’ll free her to go after it. (This is safe because she never catches one.) Of course, your dog needs to be pretty well under your off-lead control for this to work.
Suki is usually able to be off-lead, but I pay attention to her distance. If she strays too far, she gets called back. This trains her to not go too far away. (Her behavior of straying produces the consequence of getting recalled.) If she seems particularly inattentive, back on the leash she goes. From being a totally uncontrolled maniac, she has become a masterful loose-leash walker.
When I’m watching for training opportunities, there’s always something to do. If Suki is close to me, we can practice heeling, sitting, or tricks. If she’s away from me, we can practice her distant sit, shown below, or her “come” command.
Next episode, we’ll show a great little exercise for getting your dog to stay with you off-lead before you take him out into the world for on-lead training.